2014 Voices

Olympian Amy Van Dyken-Rouen on life after paralysis: 'I’m on borrowed time'

On June 6, champion swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen was paralyzed in an ATV accident that severed her spine. She has spent the last six months in grueling rehabilitation, and in August, the Olympic gold medalist (she won four medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics and another two at the Sydney games in 2000), was able to stand again on her own. Here, in an essay for TODAY.com's "2014 Voices" series, she reflects on the year that changed her life, and why 2015 will be better than ever.

2014 ended much differently than it began. When it began, I was thinking about getting back into sports talk radio and enjoying some free time with my husband and dog. As it ended, my life has changed 180 degrees from there. I would love to do radio again, and spend time with my family. However, family and friends have taken on a whole different role for me. You see, I was injured in an ATV accident on June 6. My life, and its meaning have changed dramatically.

Today
Amy Van Dyken-Rouen and her husband Tom Rouen on TODAY.

I see life differently now. I know it is more precious and fragile. What would my husband and dog do without me? What would I do without them? These are things I think about now which never even would have entered my realm of possibility before. Now, every day that I can hug them or my nieces and nephews is a special day. It is a day I shouldn’t have.

Watch: Amy Van Dyken-Rouen takes first steps

I’m on borrowed time, and I know this for sure now. I wasn’t supposed to be here for this day, so I make it the best day I can. I have no time or room for an entire day to be a "bad day." I will have bad moments, but to waste an entire day on it isn’t worth it. How would I have felt if my day before my accident was a "bad day" and I didn’t pull through? How would that leave my friends and family? It’s not worth it. Have a bad moment, and move on.

Sunday standing with a cup of @keurig coffee. #hangingOut

A post shared by Amy Van Dyken (@amyvandyken) on

My 2015 is going to be the best year yet. I am getting my foundation off the ground, The Amy Van Dyken Foundation. It will house Amy’s Army which will hopefully change the lives of people living with SCI (spinal cord injury), giving them the necessary equipment to allow them to live their lives as normal as possible. Sadly, insurance won’t cover most of the things we need to shower, or use the restroom. Amy’s Army will be there to help.

I would still like to continue my career, but it has changed quite a bit. I used to do sports talk (yep, still would love to do that), and now, I would also like to use my gift of gab to let people know that we can do anything we put our minds to. Let them know that every day is a gift, and to make it an amazing day.

My friends and family mean more to me than ever. When my accident happened, they filled two waiting rooms, just waiting for the doctor to come out and let them know I would live. None of them cared about me losing the use of my lower body. Every day in the ICU, my room was filled with laughter and love. One nurse came in and said, "Ladies, this is not a sorority!"

Today
Amy Van Dyken-Rouen on the TODAY plaza.

My sister, who was 37 weeks pregnant flew to be with me, not caring about perhaps giving birth on the plane. My brother did the same. He wasn’t pregnant, so it wasn’t as dramatic, but it was loving all the same. When I finally got home, my best friend bust through the door and said, "Ok, we are going shopping and to lunch. Let’s go!” She didn’t care that she would have to put my wheelchair in the back of her car, or help me up steps.

Yep, 2014 is ending and it didn’t end how I thought it would. In some ways, it’s ending better than I could have imagined. I just can’t wait to see how awesome 2015 is going to be.

Today

Find more of TODAY.com's "2014 Voices" here.

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